Two people pointing at a man in a chairA scapegoat is a person, group, or entity who is targeted for blame for something he or she was not responsible for.

What Is a Scapegoat?

When something bad happens, people almost always seek an explanation. When people cannot find an explanation or wish to avoid attributing blame to the actual cause, sometimes they turn to a scapegoat. The process of scapegoating can be a long and extensive one. The person assigning blame may enlist the help of others, point to past blameworthy behavior of the scapegoat, or engage in abusive treatment of the scapegoat. Governments involved in scapegoating sometimes embark on propaganda campaigns.  Scapegoats can suffer a variety of negative consequences including loss of social status, economic problems, social isolation, and depression. People are more likely to engage in scapegoating when they are stressed, experiencing oppression, or afraid. Scapegoating, in turn, can lead to the oppression of a scapegoated group.

Examples of Scapegoating

Most people engage in scapegoating at one time or another. A person who blames his or her partner for a burglary because he or she left the door unlocked or left a valuable possession visible is scapegoating. Some scapegoating campaigns, however, have been so extensive that they have had disastrous sociopolitical and human rights consequences.

For example, in the 1940s, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States began an anti-Japanese propaganda campaign and imprisoned thousands of Japanese-Americans. Anti-Japanese racism lingered for years as many people blamed all Japanese people for the bombing. Additionally, some historians believe that scapegoating was a major factor in the Holocaust. After World War I, Germany was decimated, and Adolf Hitler rose to power by promising to make Germany strong again, blaming Jewish people for a host of social ills.

Scapegoats in Family Therapy

In some families, one family member takes on the blame for all or most of the family’s problems; some refer to this person as the “black sheep.” Some families enter therapy specifically to address the problems of the scapegoat. For example, one child might have behavioral problems that prompt the entire family to seek therapy out of a belief that the child’s behavior problems are tearing the family apart.

Family therapists are trained to recognize when a family is scapegoating one member and, through therapy, attempt to help the family understand that the scapegoat’s problems are something in which the entire family participates. Some family systems theorists argue that the scapegoat is simply trying to draw attention to larger family problems with his or her behavior. Tools for dealing with scapegoating include helping each family member recognize his or her role in family problems, altering family dynamics so that each family member is responsible for the functioning of the family, and examining overlooked problems within the family system.


  1. Boss, P. (2002). Family stress management: A contextual approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  2. Scapegoat theory. (n.d.). Psychology Glossary. Retrieved from Theory.
  3. Scapegoating research and remedies. (n.d.). The Scapegoat Society. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 02-17-2017

  • Leave a Comment
  • Andrew L.

    October 6th, 2017 at 4:02 AM

    Ima scapegoat waiting explicit pain and wrong doings for the blame of my ex partner whom can’t handle her own truth seeking real help asap

  • Deb L

    December 7th, 2017 at 7:20 PM

    Happened (and continues) within what is typically the very close family that grew up under one roof. In stressful economic times, I was punished, locked in my room, hit with a belt , spit into my face. I am the first born and only female. Have two brothers. Last belting was in 8th grade (I hid it .) At 17, the spitting in my face was after my mother enraged my father to a point of uncontrolled anger. The window of my room was opened and EVERTHING thrown onto the front yard in the late night. My mother would taunt me that she was planning to enrage my father… she smiled and would whisper…”If your dad has a stroke or heart attack…it will all be your fault. My family members are all very overweight. I stuck to weight watchers at age 14, and learned it as a life style. I married the first man I met to escape . I became pregnant and the husband made a good living. Suddenly, I was adored by my mother. Cut to today, I had to divorce due to the sexual and money addiction of the husband. Somehow woth 3 children I met a man with values and 1 child on a walk. As happily ever after began in 2003, I was cut from all family gatherings …it was slight , then I found emails written about me to the family. Upon direct communication…the woman I thought was my mother admitted she lied about me. She could not answer as to “why”? This woman, the man who fathered me, and 1 brother I protected from bullies, another brother I was made to care for as a newborn when I was 10, all cut me from contact. They do invite my now adult children to Holidays, and social gatherings. Funny…I am nothing like them. I earned a dance scholarship to attend college, traveled throughout the USA and to Tokyo, Japan. I was on the deans list, graduated with a bachelors and made an unbelievable amount of money for my mother and father’s company. At 50, I was duped a last time , the company sold to the 2 overweight, racist, and ignorant brothers. Call me dumb… somehow when a person is in the middle of a vortex, it is not visible until one is watching it from a far distance.
    My posture is not to drop to the low class level. I simply know and when asked, I say ” I have no contact from them as to what they are doing , nor why. Until there is a point to start at, and I have never received one…the ball is in their court. I have truly, no conceivable answer as to the actions they engage in. I have not one word form anyone of the four as to what they believe…with no starting place.. the ball is in their court and I have moved on.

  • tim

    December 19th, 2017 at 10:50 AM

    nice story

  • mary

    March 19th, 2018 at 7:44 AM

    Dear folks who published here. Jesus was also a scapegoat in the eyes of the multitude in His generation and even continues clear up to this day. I too felt as a scapegoat in my family. I found that, in spite of the things that had tormented me all these years were born out of lies that began way when and perpetuated through the cellular memories of family members and others who had formed this pattern/habit of scapegoating. I listened to a course on “How To Hear God’s Voice” by Mark Virkler and began to seriously journal my thoughts, hurts and prayers to God. It is amzing how He has shown me truth through love and acceptance, and not judgment. He holds me like the child He has created to be loved. In my journals, I speak to Him and then He speaks to me through His still voice or/and visons, perceptions, His Word. All of this is very comforting and now I can see and understand. As a scapegoat, we tend to often live this out, unaware of the curse or darkness that was put over us at on point. The more I journal and hear from the Holy Spirit, the more I see this from God’s point of view. Mankind can be cruel, yet I see that mankind had also made our Creator, the One who made us to rise up in Light and Life, was also made a scapegoat by the ones who beat Him and crucified Him. But, because He arose from death and entered His place in the eternal heaven, He invites us, our spirit, to follow Him, clear up to His presence. To put off our fleshly mind-filled thinking patterns and to live by His Spirit that’s connected to our spirit and speak forth light over ourselves and others. We who were made the scapegoats by man are the very ones that the LORD wants to raise His Spirit up within us so that we will go out into the world and tell others who are in darkness to look up to their Creator because He is the Deliverer of those who believe and call on Him. He calls us to separate the Light from the darkness, the truth from the lie, the precious from the worthless, the man from the beast. He calls us into His resurrection life even while we still live here on this earth. So for us scapegoats, we have a wonderful ministry of hope, love and deliverance to so many others, and even our ‘persecutors,’ who need this redemtion just as much, or more, than we do. He desires to pour His glory into our lives and heal our “broken vessels.”

  • Natalie

    April 11th, 2018 at 8:24 AM

    Childhood. Not a free right of passage for all children. Blackmail. Eg. The skills a pathological expertise artist applies on a empathic innocent child. Providing a means to ‘cover their evil tracks’. But that’s history. Its now 40 years later. The ‘great goat escape’ ends the nightmares, right? Apparently not without conditions. Fantasy is the only place of access for inter- personal relationships, for me. Im a moralistic masochist. The repetitive cycle of manifesting lovers with a dynamic destined to be emotionally unsuitable causing psychological damage. Yet i persistently forge on. Trying to change the outcome. Wishing for a happy co-existence. In reality co-creating rejection. The pain i endure silently alone is perhaps is an indication of my inability to consciously feel guilt or shame. A subconscious self constructed punishment. I dig a grave with tools i dream are care and deep loyal devotion. Can i love? Can i be loved? A hybrid scapegoat. Not like the more commonly understood goat that projects, blames others and/or applies the black & white sight method. I blame me. I take full responsibility. Yet with capabilities of attributes only found in heaven or hell. Im feared and loved in the same breath. The air shared between lovers that floats into a space of an intoxicating addiction , pleasure and pain. My outcome remains the same. Unsuccessful. I believe i am cursed. I burn in vain. I ache with sadness. They may never know my intent was to cherish them as my god. My creator. In return they set me free.

  • Lee

    July 1st, 2019 at 3:49 AM

    Thank you so much for your comment- I would not have made it through my life without my dearest friend, Jesus. I often use the verses my daughter reminded me of- great joy- as I tried to understand the terrible treatment I was receiving from my family. She reminded me about Job’s plight, and then that Jesus was dispised and rejected as well. I am indeed the scapegoat- but not alone in the wilderness. My Shepherd seeks and finds me.

  • Rosewild

    May 31st, 2018 at 8:29 AM

    Sounds so awful for you. You did well to separate from them. They are probably trauma bonded, developed split personalities to cope or in serious denial and project feelings. They’re not rational and make up reality. I have gone into abuse counseling but sometimes I think to do family therapy but think they would e so good at abuse I would be abused further there but still it is my fantasy. I’m glad you did so well. Still the shaming and scapegoating is twisted and twists my Ming. Carry on.

  • Bev

    August 2nd, 2018 at 7:03 AM

    I have been a scapegoat all of my life. If it were not for my belief and faith in God, I could not do the work to no longer be the family scapegoat. I am writing letters to my family members. I may send the letters or I may not. However, the letters are helping me to see the truth. I’m starting to feel free from the guilt and shame that has imprisoned me all my life. My plan is to move to Maine from Washington state. I am not running from my family. I am moving becau

  • Beverly

    August 2nd, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    I have been a family scape goat all my life.

  • Collie

    September 18th, 2018 at 5:54 PM

    I found this as I sat here in tears and raging because it’s happened again. I’ve dealt with this my entire life from different family members. A man in my family will marry a mean spirited, crazy woman, who creates imaginary drama, lies, attempts to drive the family apart and succeeds. The man seems to think this is normal behavior and expects everyone else to do accept the abuse. I thought I had severed all the abusers, and here it comes again from someone who I thought would be least likely. I have enough experience now to see it coming, and sure enough, that’s what it is. Now I have no family at all. All I’ve ever done is be kind and generous to all of these people.
    Working through my pain and rage, I start to wonder what the heck they do when you’ve gone no contact. Do they just pick someone else at random and start the whole, psychotic mess all over again? I can’t wrap my head around this, as I don’t think like they do. I’m sick of trying. Your articles are excellent. Even though I don’t understand the mindset. I comprehend what’s happened to me now. I think I need counseling as this is the most painful one of all. I have no family at all now. It hurts more than losing a family member to death, because, although death is so final, at least it’s normal and natural.

  • Dan Johnson

    September 19th, 2018 at 8:47 AM

    Dear Collie,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, you can start finding therapists in your area by entering your city or ZIP code into the search field on this page:

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. You may click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. If you need help finding a therapist, you are welcome to call us. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and our phone number is 888-563-2112.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

  • Nichole

    September 23rd, 2019 at 9:28 AM

    I am going through exact same thing and have no family now. How have you healed? Are things any better?

    Much love and luck to you

  • Deb

    September 19th, 2018 at 5:50 PM

    Reading thru entries from the time I entered my first one (12/17), I have continued therapy and continue by love for my True Father, GOD and my savior Jesus Christ who is as mentioned in another entry, The Scapegoat that weathered a life of being lied about and tortured . Because of God’s love, be gave his only true son, Jesus, to save our souls. Jesus lived in a physical body, feeling the hurt and pain we do, I always realize how extremely painful it was for God to watch His son Suffer! As a parent, I would rather take the pain than to endure an agony of watching my own son or daughter in pain. With that in mind, there are very powerful lessons that speak to the subject of Good and Evil. Good always prevails over evil. Evil tries by means of anything important to one, to grab an unexpected spot and wrap a soul up with lies and hate. Evils will “try” on a soul that is reaching to a higher and closer understanding of Gods love and The Salvation Jesus gives of an everlasting life filled with Joy. Here’s the power God has instilled in us thru Jesus Christ…simply protect your Love and and God’s Soverien Power, by stating outwardly..” stand behind me satan, get out evil, for I am the child of God Almighty and Saved by JESUS Christ, my Lord who always prevails, whom I serve. I serve God. Good always has, always, will Prevail.
    So much more to comment , for now I hope to stir sould to reach out to God , speak your love outward, banish nasty evil from your life and feel a peace. Evil runs at the words spoken of love and service and the goodness of GOD.

  • Billie

    October 17th, 2019 at 1:56 PM

    Turn to God. That’s the advice. I am about to be homeless, don’t get visits with my children or grandchildren. Survived a miserable childhood. They forged my signature cut me out of my share of inheritence. Now i am disabled. No income. I cant understand why they keep getting richer commit crimes and i get nothing. And the advice i get is move on forget about it. Pray to God. Come on i have nothing i give up.

  • Bart

    October 25th, 2019 at 9:18 PM

    I have been the family scapegoat all my life. I have 9 brothers and sisters and they all participate in this sick ess. I have gone no contact but every now and then I get texts or phone calls from the flying monkeys and I find myself getting lured back into the family drama. It always ends the same. I end up being blamed for hurting them, taking advantage or being blamed for exactly what they have done to me!
    Through the years I have gone no contact and my life actually got alot better , less drama, felt better about myself. I have had 4 of my brothers and sisters contact me and tell me that they feel bad about how I was treated and they could see it very cleary because they too were being scapegoated. They were being singled out by everyone because they stood up for themselves and spoke their mind about something that was going on and anytime you upset the main story teller, you get punished by everyone and it will continue until you fall in line and accept your role as it is given by mother! She says what is right what is wrong, who is to blame and if you disagree you will get the wrath and alienation of the whole family! It has been a very difficult road because I love them all but I never know if it is just a ploy to get me to come back into the fold and take my role as the OG Scapegoat! I played it well at my own destruction. At the present I have been no contact with my Mom for over a year and 6 months or more from all my brothers and sisters but one. I have no real connection with any of them, they don’t really know me and I’m on a better path without them. Yes it is hard and lonely sometimes but it is actually more painful and lonely when they are in my life and they ignore me and don’t hear me anyways!

  • KPizzle4Rizzle

    July 13th, 2020 at 10:36 PM

    Mayors, governors, presidents… Cause it really takes the whole village.

  • susan

    August 30th, 2020 at 9:05 AM

    I am a scapegoat to the point that even the book of Leviticus can not enrich my spirit enough to help me find any peace, even if my soul had a strength to turn to the pages and read it.
    i have no understanding and yet what i understands leaves me no platform of courage or hope to even try.
    my heart is so broken by how my siblings have treated me, and i beseech you dear father to hear my cry and not abandon me as it so feels in my deepest being. I know longer know or see the direction and i utterly give up.

  • Nichole H

    August 31st, 2020 at 11:54 AM

    Dear Susan,
    I am so sorry to hear this. I too am in a very similar position. Please never give up. We can never give up. The Lord is with us always even when it seems the evil are prevailing. My siblings too have disgraced me and really a lot of people in my life have and with no accountability or validation so we sit and feel abandoned and at fault. But we are not. Those who do these acts are in so much pain they must leak it onto us. Never forget that. It brings me comfort to know that it is out of pain and not done intentionally. Even though it seems like it. I pray you don’t give up or I don’t. To be a scapegoat you must be a good person. Please reach out anytime ❤️

  • Denise

    December 29th, 2020 at 1:33 AM

    I need to blog about scapegoating, what’s the least expensive way to go?

  • Paloma

    February 16th, 2021 at 4:17 AM

    Frankly, after 57 years of suffering scapegoating I do not believe that there is a therapy for this kind of family dinamic because as narcisisstic disorder is involved on it, and there is no cure for it. The narcisisst needs hurt the scapegoat to survive himself psicologicaly speaking. That is he is not going to stop manipulating and abusing, because he/she can not help it and what is more important, they do not want to help it. Psicologist and other therapysts would do all the victms a favour by uknowleging this truth so we do not keep on waiting respect, love and acceptance from people who only will give us punisment.

  • Erin

    January 12th, 2022 at 2:46 PM

    I’m the family scapegoat and have been for about 20 years. But God is blessing me with the sight to see it and accept God’s path for me instead. I think that the love of my husband and children helped me have the confidence and courage to accept reality, confront it, and leave it finally. I want my children to know a mother who has self respect and never see me in tears after an abusive run-in with my parents or siblings. I’ve struggled with the guilt of leaving my parents/siblings; even though they’ve caused so much pain. It’s hard to un-learn that “it’s all my fault” and realize where my responsibility lies and where it doesn’t. Being raised to believe I’m guilty and should be ashamed and untrusted and an outcast who has to earn her way back into good graces is going to take lots of time and reflection and meditation, but I really do feel God’s presence helping me through it now. I still love them and I recognize my mother is a narcissist and my father’s resentment towards me is not my responsibility; it’s between he and my mother. My mother gossips about me to my siblings and my father to gain consensus from everyone and build a little army of attackers and influencers against me. The ultimate was when I fell in love with a man who I chose to marry. At the time, he was divorced, w/children and older. That was a little too stout of a cocktail for mom to take. Oh how it humiliated her that the daughter she owned, who represented HER, would go and choose a man with such baggage that would humiliate her, her standing in society and the family. One night I got a call from a woman who let me know my mother was reaching out to women in the community to let them know I had a mental disorder. She then tried shock treatment and attempted to keep me in her house (at 25 years old) to force me to change or something.. not really sure what the objective was that night but she was desperate and all she could think of was getting one of my brothers to help her hold me hostage. That night she and a brother locked me in a room with them as they screamed at me whatever they thought was critical for me to hear, and that was the night I experienced my first panic attack. I got away and ran out of the house because I really believed my heart was going to explode in my chest if I didn’t. I never felt safe in that house again and to this day I feel that the brother involved is still probably confused by his actions to help her in her abuse. There are people in that community who I grew up loving who show distain or confusion for me now and all I can think of is how I can’t control it; there is no telling what my mother told them to make herself feel and look better. I ran into a woman in a grocery store who was always the sweetest Christian woman who raised the sweetest children and I grew up playing with those children. I went to greet her and ask how her kids were doing and I was met with the obvious affects of a lengthy gossip session between her and my mother. She was short and really rude and cold. I found out mom had spent an afternoon with her during my engagement. Who knows what my mother told her. That one hurt because I looked up to her as a Christian, but my mother is one of the most convincing and influential people you’ll meet so I don’t blame the people she comes in contact with anymore. That was years ago, but every year brings new things for her to target me for. Most recently she proclaimed God hasn’t blessed my 10 year marriage bc we didn’t marry in her denomination’s church and my husbands previous marriage was never annulled by the church she belongs to. We were pressured by everyone in the family to sign paperwork from a church my husband and I don’t belong to and never did belong to; paperwork that originated after she mislead a priest into believing we were practicing in that denomination. It’s as if no one is aware of the lunacy in this request, they all just operate to appease mother. Because I said no, that cost peace over Christmas and a father who wont speak to me. I believe she (my mom) doesn’t really know how wicked she behaves and how misguided and misunderstood and sick she truly is. I believe the rest of the family complies because they see how she treats her enemies and they are desperate not to be one of them. I can finally see it now and I no longer question who I am, or accept guilt or shame from her or the family. My heart hurts for my siblings when they attack me because I know they’ll question themselves afterwards and that will continue the longer they see and meet the non-scapegoat Erin, but however heartbroken I am for them, I will continue to choose health for myself, my children and my husband. If that means leaving “the family” for the sake of my own health and my own family, then so be-it. My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years now. He’s still the man worth fighting for. My mother has recently begun to attempt to go around me to influence him knowing he would be the ultimate relationship to have in her tool belt to use against me. Little does she know he’s a man of God and he can’t be used against me. He’s a blessing from God in every way. Awareness brings protection and I feel safe now. Ultimately, it was my awareness that broke the bondage and I just pray for confidence and sensitivity to God’s voice so I can hear His direction for me and walk down the path He has in store for me; especially as He restores my soul through the journey. The healing is possible and life goes on. Your stories in the posts remind me I’m not alone in this experience, so thank you for sharing and inspiring me to do the same!

  • Donna

    April 10th, 2023 at 2:59 PM

    i am so relived to see all these truths as they g>ve me the ability to forgive myself. i am alone at 65 and i am the safest ive ever been. with no contact. a loner now . i learned to sign “im sorry” and that all the communication i do. thank you for helping me understand.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.